If you want to look like you spent a lot more money on your clothes than you really did, you need to stay away from these seven things.
1. Gathered seams Designers like these because they can make clothes more forgiving and help hide fit issues that arise when you use flat, smooth seams. Also, sharply tailored garments are more difficult to make, more expensive, and can be worn by fewer people. Think about it — the better something fits you, the worse it is going to fit pretty much everyone else. Instead, look for pieces with clean lines and sharp tailoring, and always choose pleats over gathered seams.
White Off-the-Shoulder Dress, PIXIE MARKET, $42
Pink Blazer, FOREVER 21, $30
2. Embellishments Embroidery, sequins, beading, and studs look amazing when they are applied by skilled craftspeople using high-quality materials, but not so much when they are done by machine on a $20 T-shirt. Even if an embellished piece looks OK in the store or in a picture, you know that once you start wearing it for real, it's going to fall apart, and nothing looks cheaper than a jeweled sweater with missing jewels. Instead, focus on simple, unadorned pieces, and use your jewelry and other accessories as embellishments. Don't make the garment do all the styling work for you.
Gray Cropped Sweater, ABERCROMBIE & FITCH, $34; Pearl Earrings, GALA BY DANIELA SWAEBE (Available at Max & Chloe), $48
3. Cotton knits and jersey in dark or saturated colors (black, navy, rich jewel tones, and bold primaries) These are great at first, but throw them into the washer and dryer a couple times, and the color starts to fade and they are noticeably fuzzier than when you first bought them. Instead, stick to cotton knits and jerseys in light colors, like grays, pastels, and white, and when you do have a darker or more saturated knit, spot-treat and hand-wash it at home, or spring for dry cleaning.
Cream Cropped Sweater, FOREVER 21, $28
4. LaceOnce you've held real, high-quality, handmade lace in your hands — the kind of stuff they use to make wedding gowns and couture dresses — you know that the flat, flimsy, machine-made stuff fast-fashion brands use really doesn't measure up. Sure, occasionally cheap lace can surprise you, but if your goal is to look like you spent more than you really did, it's best to leave that $40 lace dress for someone else to buy. Instead, go for fine mesh. It's not as girly as lace, but it is still feminine and sort of see-through, and it looks pretty much the same whether you are buying it from H&M or Saks Fifth Avenue.
Black Mesh Peplum Dress, ASOS, $73
That said, if you absolutely cannot live without lace in your life, try to stick to pieces that use lace only as an accent, instead of all over. And look for lace that is delicate and has a raw, uneven edge that follows the shape of the lace itself instead of being folded over and sewn like any other piece of fabric.
Navy Lace Tank, RIVER ISLAND, $44
5. Small, complicated prints like paisley and tiny, multicolor florals. The smaller and more complicated the print is, the more opportunities there are for something to go wrong (aka for it to end up looking cheap). Instead, when you are shopping on the cheap, focus on simple, graphic prints, like stripes, polka dots, and plaids in high-contrast color combos, like black and white. If you can't squint at the print from 10 feet away and still instantly recognize what it is and all its parts, then skip it.
Black-and-White Printed Skirt, NASTY GAL, $16
6. Imperfect fit A proper fit is by far the most important factor in making your clothes look more expensive. If a sleeve is too wide, or a shoulder is too narrow, or a pant leg is too long or too loose, the piece is going to look cheap. Period. Even if it costs a million dollars, if it doesn't fit well, it's just going to look like garbage. Instead of just buying and wearing it anyway, take it to a tailor. I cannot stress this enough. Personal tailoring is like waving a magic wand over your clothes. It is completely transformative. Simple alterations like hems are generally pretty straightforward and inexpensive, but more complex tailoring can get pricey, so ask for a quote before you commit and make sure the store will let you return the piece if you decide it's not worth tailoring.
Black Cropped Moto Jacket, NASTY GAL, $88
7. Sloppy finishingsWhether you are shopping in store, or just looking over the pieces in your own wardrobe, little things like loose threads, uneven creases, loose or missing buttons, and prints that don't quite line up can make even an expensive garment look totally cheap. Inspect pieces before you buy them to make sure seams are sewn straight and edges are nicely finished. Check that the print on a pocket is in line with the print on the rest of the garment, and not off-set in some way. Trim loose threads with scissors — never pull them. It might sound like a lot, but these little things make a huge difference.